By Dianne Taggart

Peregrine Falcon

Length: 15-21 inches

Wingspan: 40-45 inches


What an incredible bird! The Peregrine Falcon is considered to be one of the fastest creatures on earth. They are a crow-sized bird of prey that can reach diving speeds of up to 200 mph! Falcons, particularly Peregrines, have been used throughout history by falconers and were often favored by kings, not only for their speed and agility but also due to their intelligence, which allowed them to be more easily trained than other falcons.

Though never abundant in numbers, in recent history Peregrine Falcon populations dropped drastically due to pesticide contamination. However, after the banning of DDT in the 1970’s the birds numbers have risen considerably. Even though found on every continent except Antarctica, they are not common and are still on the endangered species list in many of our states.

As with all raptors the female is larger that the male. Male falcons are called “tiercels” meaning they are one-third smaller than the females. They have a bluish gray back, a black cap on the head with a black “moustache” below the eye, a white chin with a buffy breast that has brown barring. Dark brown eyes with a slate blue beak and yellow feet and legs. (Truly a beautiful bird.) Their wings are pointed, their feet are powerful and their beaks are strong for plucking and tearing their prey.

Peregrine Falcon prey is usually small to medium-sized birds (including shorebirds and kestrels), but they will sometimes take larger birds the size of ducks; they were even called “duck hawks” in the past. Peregrines living in cities will take large numbers of rock pigeons and starlings. They normally hunt at dawn and dusk and capture their prey in mid-air. The non-urban birds will hunt over open water, fields and marshes.

Peregrines spy their prey while in flight, or from a perch or building. They will start their killing dive, or “stoop” (“a streamlined dive with its tail and wings folded and its feet lying back”), hitting their prey with fisted talons at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.  (There are “baffles” in the nostrils of the peregrine which slow the wind going through the bird’s lungs thereby preventing the lungs from rupturing.) They will then either catch the prey in the air as it falls or, if it is too heavy, will allow it to drop to the ground for retrieval. At other times the falcon will chase it’s prey, come up under the bird, roll over and grab with its talons in mid-air.

Peregrines do not breed until they are two or three years old and may mate for life.  Courtship includes high, circling-type flight by the male and dives and chases by both male and female. Mate feeding also occurs. Nesting sites are usually on a natural ledge; in urban areas the ledges of skyscrapers and bridges are used. Nesting ledges called “aeries” are used year after year. (On an island off the coast of Wales there is a ledge that has been used since 1243.) Nests are nothing more than a scrape in loose sand or vegetation on which the female will lay 3-5 whitish eggs with brown spots.

The females incubate for about 32 days when the eggs then hatch. The male peregrine will hunt for the female and nestling during this period, bringing prey to the nest for the female to feed to the young. The young fledge at about 35-45 days and will stay with their parents while learning to hunt. Parent birds hunt and the young will learn to grab the prey from the parents while in mid-air. The young will begin to hunt on their own in a few weeks.

Generally two birds per nest fledge. If the birds survive their first year, survival chances are good. Although average life span is 2-8 years, longevity of 2 decades is not uncommon.

Peregrine Falcons migrate as far south as South America, although there are permanent residents on the northwest coast. Most migration is done along coastlines and often further out at sea.

On Long Island Peregrines can often be seen perched on the tower at Jones Beach State Park and along Dune Road; also overhead during fall migration at the Robert Moses Hawk Watch (parking field #1 at Robert Moses State Park).

Good birding!

The photos below were all submitted by members of the Long Island Wildlife Photography Group on Facebook

Scroll through all 5 pages, these images are excellent!


Robert Kaplan

Vicki Jauron

John Martello

Scott Dere

Scroll through all 5 pages!